Monday, 12 September 2016

Entertainment stuff from the week 5-11/9/16

Hi uniplets,

Something that Brian posted slightly too late for last week's article:

'Freddie Mercury Asteroid'

Massive coincidences. Interesting, aren't they.

'Family welcomed third child born on the same day for third consecutive year'

But how big a coincidence is this really?

Well, clearly it has to be quite unlikely, or it would happen all the time, in a population of 7 billion people, but it's nowhere near as random as it might seem, at first.

Think about it: what determines when a foetus is born, and becomes a baby?

1 - Time of conception
2 - Time to develop in the womb

That's it. So the question really is: if the parents bonked on the same night three years in a row, what's the chance that the three babies would be born on the same day, three years in a row?

Well, to calculate that, all we need is data on the statistical spread of gestational periods in different women, from child to child.

If there is a population of women who have very regular gestational periods, of consistent length, then we can assume that this family of 3s derives from a woman in this population.

{A gestation a few days longer would result in the same birth date, if the conception occurred a few days earlier. This widens the opportunities for such coincidences to happen}

In which case, the only significant opportunity for chance to be involved, is in element 1 - choice of when to have the bonking session.

Now, who wants to ring them up, and ask about that? :-D

As it occurs to me, as it occurs to me, as it occurs to-o me-eee coming back

'As It Occurs To Me: The Return'

I expect you will not be surprised to find out that last week's diatribe against tax dodging was not definitive, nor the last to feature on this blog. Oh yes, there's more...

According to a report by the General Accounting Office of the USA, nearly a fifth of profitable USAian companies paid no corporate taxes in 2012, through fraudulent accounting. A method of such deviance that i didn't mention last week, is the misappropriation of transactions.

Basically, because they're not required to pay tax if they make a loss, then by taking a lossful year and pretending that some of the costs of that year didn't happen, they can be 'saved' for a sunny day, to pretend that they had a rainier one. Do you know what i mean?

Let's say a company made a $50mn loss in 2012, and a $50mn profit in 2013. By declaring a $1mn loss in 2012, they pretend that $49mn of it happened in 2013. And by shuffling $2mn of profit in 2013 over to 2014's accounts, they can pretend that they had a $1mn loss in 2012, a $1mn loss in 2013, and $2mn in a year that hasn't happened yet. But of course, the tax people aren't going to be shown any of this, so how are they going to know?

There's a range of such abuses of prepayment/accrual accounting like this, called 'financial statement fraud' of which this is just one type. There's nothing wrong with prepayments and acrruals when done right, but done wrongly, it's a method of deceiving creditors and debtors, and... evading tax.

And when it came to avoiding tax in 2015, Pfizer topped the rankings in an R.G. Associates study. It paid 55% less tax than it would have done if all of its profit were taxed at the USA's 35% rate. That's $3.1 billion they dodged! A higher proportion than any other company in their study.

Of course, economists and businesspeople alike lay the blame for this at the feet of the 'cripplingly high' tax rate in the USA. Even though the tax only applies to profit. So if you're paying it, you don't need it. It's not like income tax, where you pay it because it's your personal revenue - corporation tax accounts for expenses. If you could draw up a Profit & Loss account for your finances, you'd probably pay less tax too, just because of the way the system works.

Oh, and health care and technology companies based in the USA added $266 billion to their profits over 10 years, thanks to pretending to be in tax havens, around the world.

To give you an idea of the scale of the financial fraud that Apple alone has perpetrated, their bill is going to be somewhere around €19 billion ($21 billion) whereas the entire cost of bailing out Greece's debts (the entire country) is just €2.8 billion ($3.2 billion) making Apple's tax bill (which at 35% is really not that high) enough to buy Greece's debt six-and-a-half times over!

It all looks a bit grim for Apple, these days, doesn't it. I imagine they must be doing something to try to PR all the crime reporting away. Y'know - PR - the only thing Steve Jobs was ever good at. Oh, is that yet another new iPhone design? Is that a new watch that can't actually be taken underwater despite the name? Is that an entire media event full of mini-press-releases to draw people's attention away?

Hmm. Looks like they are trying. Good luck to 'em :-D


I think i missed it, but last week was The Naked Scientists' 15th anniversary :o)

And i know i missed the 50th anniversary of the first airing of the original Star Trek, on the 8th of September 1966. As a little tribute, astronomers have identified nebulae that, from Earth's angle, look like the starship Enterprise. You can see images of them enlinked under 'contemporary stuff'.

Some time recently, some CRISPR-Cas9 "genetic scissor" genetically-engineered vegetables were cooked and eaten in a public show-off, for the first time. The CRISPR-based (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) genetic engineering technique was first published as a working technique in 2012. It's not yet known whether the anti-GMO mob will persuade anyone to ban its use, but it holds huge potential for making food more nutritious.

Here's one i haven't missed... yet. The 15th of September marks the 100th anniversary of the first use of tanks in warfare, at Cambrai, in the Somme, later designated as the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, when 36 Mark 1 tanks were used to advance the British front line.

In other news:

$21 billion to settle Apple's tax bill, $3.2 billion to settle Greece's debt, and $3.6 billion to save Ecuador's million-hectare Yasuni National Park, which contains hugely diverse Amazon wildlife, and some of the world's last uncontacted indigenous populations. Unfortunately, the last of these has also gone unpaid, forcing the President to permit the oil company Petroamazonas to start trashing it for crude oil. But a fall in oil prices has meant Ecuador's income has fallen, and the lack of international support has forced his hand. I mean, he'd have to be massively corrupt to have $3.6 billion squirrelled away, somewhere, wouldn't he. Even former Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao (and his family included) had only extorted $2.7 billion by the time he got found out.

Various companies are up in arms, whining about proposed copyright reforms, by the EU. Some are awful, or just awfully poorly thought through, but even the sensible ones have received the same lambasting. Unsurprisingly, Google-owned lobby group OpenForum Europe opposes ancillary copyright, which would make it financially expensive to quote anyone, on the internet, especially the newspapers it's designed to defend. Google opposes it because they have to quote newspapers' web-pages in their listings, otherwise no-one knows what the article they'd be clicking to contained! But then, media broadcasting organisations (like Sky and RTL) have been whining too, about the idea that maybe they should charge a base rate for access to their material, and not be charging extra just because customers are, for example, in Croatia. The internet's the internet - it doesn't cost more to make it available to Croatians, so why should they be charged more? It seems very sensible, to me, to prevent this kind of buccaneering geo-blocking. Other objections run along common objections to copyright law, full stop. Period. .. I maintain that intellectual property should not be allowed to be owned by organisations - only the individuals who contributed to it. And not beyond their death, either. That reform would fix a lot that's wrong with copyright and patent law.

I'm used to seeing sexist, racist, naturopathic, and theological pseudoscience crop up on press release sites like but this one's a rarity. Katherine Dafforn, Mariana Mayer-Pinto and Nathan Waltham, writing for The Conversation, are apparently quite happy to nail their flags to the mast of Feng Shui fraud - a pseudoscience famously deriving from the Orient, that is predicated on superstitious beliefs in and about 'qi', 'energy', 'harmony', 'balance' and 'building health'. They claim that such superstitious baloney could and should help with marinology, and ecology and engineering. Not a chance! If we want to ensure the health of our environment and ourselves, we must evict these intellectual trespassers, or all our efforts will be compromised unnecessarily.

The second death in a Tesla car this year (and in all history) has been the second in which blame isn't attributed to the car's autopilot system. In the first case, the driver was shown to be a rather reckless driver who was speeding at the time; and in this case, the autopilot has shown to not be on when the incident happened. In fact, the car's logs show that it was doing 155 kph (96 mph) when it was driven into a tree, which is 32 mph faster than the car in the first fatal incident. So Musk's Space X might be a bit dodgy when it comes to spaceflight, but his cars are not to blame when they go bang.

It's a victory for corruption! Facebook routinely censors depictions of the human form (specifically certain bodyparts perverts don't like seeing) including the now-famous photograph of a naked girl escaping a napalm bombing, during the Vietnam War. But when Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg decided to object, then after her photo was taken down through routine, it eventually got put back up again. Prime Ministers get to post nudes if they want to, it seems. I shan't fret about the asininity of the premier's ascerbic witticism "It shows that using social media can make [a] political change even in social media" but i shall take another stab at Facebook's aloof and prejudicial bid for "protecting the community" by maintaning the community's ignorance of its own bodies. Facebook has similarly censored a photo of Copenhagen's statue of the Little Mermaid, on the same grounds! Less surprisingly, though no less nonsensically, it's censored Gustave Courbet's painting 'L'Origine Du Monde' (The Origin Of The World) which depicts a map of tasmania... a ham wallet, a bearded clam, a cellar door, a front window, a happy valley, a gate of heaven, an itching jenny, a vertical smile, a cockpit, a bald echidna, a blown out tater biscuit, a ring-a-rang-a-roo... you get the idea, right? I'm not allowed to use the word 'cunt' you see :-P

Just weeks away from Rosetta's final rest, as it's spiralled in toward comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, Rosetta has spotted the lander Philae, trapped against a cliff face. You can see the images at the first and second links below, or here. Rosetta hadn't been able to capture a photo of Philae since November 2014, but both had already sent years' worth of data to Earth. Rosetta is due to find its own landing spot on the comet on the 30th September, when it will complete its spiral course and crashland onto the cometary surface. Hopefully, sending back pictures all the way. You can find out a little more about Rosetta's dusty grave, and planned descent by clicking here, and about the cometary dust, by clicking here.

Yet another fossil discovery, marred by the stench of festering cryptozoology. There really has been an icthyosaur fossil revealed, having been discovered and eventually catalogued after 50 years sitting around, but there has never been the same discovery for a 'nessie'. Species are often classified, taxonomically, years and sometimes decades after discovery, simply because there are so many of them, and so few people to analyse them. They get shoved on a shelf somewhere, and passed by in favour of newer finds, and then half a century later, someone finally gets around to working out whether they're 'new' or not. Well, i suppose either 50 years or 170 million years can be old or new, depending on your point of view. But either way, nothing lived in Scotland 170 million years ago, because it didn't exist. Not the animal, the country. Unless you were thinking of a 'nessie' in which case neither did :-P

Archaeologists of the Mary Rose project have published 3D visual-light scans of ten objects found on the wreck of the ship, including a skull of a carpenter, whose osseous malformations provide clues to the life he might have led. You can go straight the scans page by clicking here.

Whether you know them as 'volatiles', 'essentials', 'odours' or 'perfumes', whiffy chemicals have a common property of miscibility in water. That means that they won't just linger on your body - they can collect in the environment, too. A study of 22 sites from the inner-city canals of Venice, out to the more rural areas, has found that 17 such volatile chemicals persist in the environment, 500 times more abundantly in the inner-city than on the edges of Venice. This includes chemicals known to be common subjects of allergies - immune malfunctions. Further research will be needed to quantify impacts from these chemicals' distribution in the environment.

Barack Obama is a parasite. No, seriously, he is. But he's not Kenyan. Baracktrema obamai, a tiny parasitic flatworm, lives while causing no obervable harm, in the blood of Malaysian Freshwater Turtles. It's deemed a huge honour to have a taxon named after you, but sometimes it just doesn't feel like one :-D

An imaging system in development at MIT can be used to read books without opening them. It uses infrared-to-microwave band light to look at and through the pages, and an algorithm to distinguish one leaf (page) from another, and to determine the shapes of the letters that are written on them. Even using 'books' deliberately pre-made to make the task easy, it can currently only see 20 pages into a book, and can only make out letters on the top 9 pages, but advancement of the technique could lead to a way to read texts inside codices that have stuck together through decay. If the contents are a curiosity, but the codex itself too fragile to open, this imaging system could be the solution.

------------------------------------------------------ contemporary stuff

'Why did the Falcon 9 Explode?'

{Musk is trying to frame it as an advanced problem, instead of a basic one}

'Coffee Cup Vibrations - Numberphile'

'Vorticella - Under the Microscope'

'Are GMOs Dangerous?'

'Checking Out Your Privates | The Checkout'

'As A Guilty Mum: Health Products | The Checkout'

'Punishing Doubt [cc]'

'Witnessing Jehovah'

'Weather, or Climate Change?'

'Image: Jupiter's south polar region'

'Mars rover Curiosity views spectacular layered rock formations'

'Image: Plankton bloom in the Barents Sea captured by the Sentinel-2A satellite'

'Image: 'Enterprise' nebulae seen by Spitzer'

'"T-Rump" by Roy Zimmerman'

'Joo sings to Igudesman "You are My Perfect Man"'

'The International Maths Salute with Dr James Tanton'

'Signs of the Time: Series 4 Ep 13 | The Checkout'

'10 more amazing bets you will always win! (new episode)'

------------------------------------------------------ of the weeks

Word Of The Week: osseous -- pertaining to bones, in shape, consistency, or other quality; unchanged from 15th century latin, and dating back to Proto-Indo-European as 'ost'

Fact Of The Week: It has been variously claimed that all the people of indigenous Australian ancestry are incapable of counting past '4' and that they all have number systems that can be used to count well past '4'. Both of these extremities are wrong. The number of populations that do not have words for numbers above four is very few, but not non-existent; so most have some form of counting system with which they can understand and convey higher numbers. Warlpiri and Anindilyakwa-speakers are restricted to words for 'one', 'two', 'few' and 'many' but Wardaman speakers concatenate numbers to go above 5, and have the word 'yigaga' for 10. Kuurn Kopan Noot speakers have the word 'peep' for 20, and the word 'baarbaanuung' for 100. Chaap Wuurong speakers have numbers up to 28, for days of the lunar cycle, corresponding to parts of the body, thereby naming all of those places at the same time as having gestural demonstrations of number. Despite all of this, Humanities academics still use the factoid that Aboriginals 'can't count past four' as an excessively-reductionistic generalisation and rhetorical remark, to shaw up their vapid extemporisations. So now you know, you can correct them. An element of confusion can be found in the fact that the Pirahã speakers of the Amazon have no words for number whatsoever. They have an intuitive understanding of 'less' and 'more', and 'some' and 'none' but nothing more than the intuitive comparative ability that many other species have been demonstrated to have. None of these peoples have been demonstrated to be incapable of numeracy - only of unwillingness, because they see no use for it.

------------------------------------------------------ non-contemporary stuff

'John Cleese Genes'

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